What you need to know about COVID-19, flu, and RSV vaccines

Columnist Ed Tobias offers a roundup of this year's available vaccines

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by Ed Tobias |

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My wife and I got the latest COVID-19 vaccine the other day, the first of three vaccines we’ll be getting this fall. The others are the seasonal flu vaccine and the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine.

This was my sixth COVID-19 vaccine, and I’ve received a flu shot every year for decades. They’ve never been a problem for my multiple sclerosis (MS).

The RSV vaccine has only recently been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It would’ve been a first for us as well, but we couldn’t get it with the COVID-19 vaccine. Although we’d made an appointment at a large drugstore chain, we were told the pharmacy had run out of the RSV vaccine.

“We only got a little shipment,” the pharmacist told us. She couldn’t tell us when they’d get more.

Some people are having a problem getting access to the COVID-19 vaccine this year. While we were waiting for our shot, the pharmacist explained to a couple that their group health insurance company wouldn’t pay for it. The couple offered to pay for it themselves, but for some reason that wasn’t allowed. They apparently could receive the vaccine only from a healthcare provider associated with their insurance group. The couple argued that their group provider didn’t have the vaccine available. It didn’t matter.

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The US government no longer picks up the tab

The problem may be that the U.S. government is no longer directly paying for the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s now paid for by individual health insurance plans for those who have coverage. Apparently, not all of those insurance companies have their act together yet.

According to The Washington Post, people looking to get vaccinated “have faced myriad complications, from pharmacies being out of network, to the vaccines not showing up on lists of approved medical expenses, to needing prior authorization.” Fortunately, my wife and I had smooth sailing with our Medicare coverage.

For those without health insurance, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the vaccine is available without charge at federally supported health centers or pharmacies participating in the CDC’s Bridge Access Program.

Vaccines and MS

The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) recommends that people with MS “should receive vaccines according to standard vaccine guidelines.” But they should also speak with their neurologist because certain MS medications bring up other considerations.

The AAN recommends against using live and live-attenuated vaccines (such as the FluMist nasal spray) if a person is being treated with certain disease-modifying therapies that suppress the immune system.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society adds that people having an MS relapse “should delay vaccination until the relapse symptoms are no longer worsening or have resolved.”

What’s new this year?

This year’s COVID-19 vaccine is monovalant, meaning that it targets only one virus variant, Johns Hopkins University immunology professor Andy Pekosz explained. Last year’s bivalant vaccine targeted the original SARS-CoV-2 strain plus a pair of omicron subvariants.

According to Pekosz, the new vaccine is effective against the variants currently causing most COVID-19 cases in the U.S. It also appears to generate an immune response to the BA.2.86 variant, which raised concern this year because it generated a large number of mutations. Pekosz recommends that people get the new vaccine by mid-October. 

All flu vaccines this season protect against four types of the viruses: influenza A(H1N1), influenza A(H3N2), and two influenza B viruses. There are specific high-dose versions for people 65 and older. The CDC recommends getting the flu vaccine in September or October. My wife and I make it a routine to get one every October.

RSV usually causes mild symptoms akin to a cold. But those symptoms can be more serious for infants and older adults who have chronic medical conditions or weakened immune systems. The CDC recommends people 60 and older receive a single dose. I plan to get mine at the same time as my flu shot. Hopefully, it’ll be back in stock then.

Not everyone agrees with the need for these vaccines, but I believe the flu vaccine has protected me from ever getting sick from the flu, and the COVID-19 vaccine limited my bout with the illness last February to nothing worse than a mild cold. I hope the same holds true for everyone.

You’re invited to visit my personal blog at www.themswire.com.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Comments

Kim avatar

Kim

Thanks, Ed, you are ever informative! Got my flu shot 2 weeks ago, will be doing my second infusion of Ocrevus October 2, and was told not to get Covid booster for at least 2 weeks. Ok, later in the month is alright with me! Living with SPMS for 20 years now

Reply
Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Kim,

What you're doing, timing wise, is what I've heard from some others being treated with"O". Good luck with your treatments.

Ed

Reply
Joan Bondira avatar

Joan Bondira

I'm fully on board with all the recommended vaccines, and am always on top of the ones I should get. But I do worry about how effective they are for those of us who are on B cell-depleting drugs. And it seems like nobody will say how vulnerable we are having the cells that make antibodies almost at unmeasurably low levels. I'll still get all the jabs, but I just want to know so I can judge risk levels going about my life.

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